Effective Talent Practices That Sustainable Nonprofits Share

By Lisa Brown Alexander
In March 2, 2018

When describing your nonprofit, does the word “sustainable” come to mind? How do you know if your organization is truly sustainable?

According to Nell Edington, “nonprofit sustainability occurs when a nonprofit attracts and effectively uses enough and the right kinds of money necessary to achieve their long-term outcome goals.” Further, she says, “Nonprofit sustainability means that a nonprofit board and staff know what they want to accomplish, develop a smart strategy and business model, and use money as a tool to make it happen.”

With this definition in mind, many nonprofit leaders may think of sustainability from a purely financial perspective. Of course, funding is crucial for a successful, sustainable nonprofit. But sustainability goes beyond just finances. It includes setting attainable goals and considering your programs and people. As we’ve noted before, talent is also a major component.

Talent is perhaps the most important, and yet the most frequently overlooked element of nonprofit sustainability. You simply can’t be a sustainable organization if you don’t have the people in place to advance your nonprofit’s most important goals. True talent sustainability requires effective strategies for attracting, retaining and engaging the best possible talent for your organization, from entry-level to executives.


Understand, evaluate and improve your candidate experience as you strive to recruit the high quality talent you need to advance your mission. As you build a pipeline of talent for your organization, leverage your brand as a mission-focused organization to define your value proposition as an employer. Be intentional and engaging in your communications with prospective candidates and proactively send messages to your target talent pool about why they should consider joining your organization. Messaging can be done through your organization’s website, via email and using social media. Each of these channels are free and can be easily leveraged for your organization’s benefit.

A major component of a sustainable nonprofit workforce, particularly in today’s cultural climate, is diversity. In our 2018 Nonprofit Talent Management Priorities Survey, 61 percent of respondents indicated that attracting and hiring diverse talent or building a diverse and inclusive workforce is their top priority this year. That’s with good reason: the makeup of our country is changing rapidly, and to ensure long-term sustainability, your team should match the diversity of the communities you serve. Seek out partnerships and relationships with talent sources that can help you address the diversity that your organization is lacking –– whether it’s finding staff of color, older workers, entry-level professionals or men (yes, men!) –– align your diversity needs to your diversity goals.

Also, carefully consider the types of talent –– full-time or contingent –– you’ll need now and in the future. This will go hand in hand with your nimble, reality-based budgeting strategy. You may not need to hire a full-time employee every time your current team reaches capacity. Consider engaging freelance, part-time, or contract talent to support your team with short-term needs or during particularly busy seasons.

Engagement and Retention

High turnover can have a catastrophic effect on your organization’s reputation, impact and overall sustainability. Opportunities for professional development and career-enriching experiences are two keys to improved talent engagement and retention. Many sustainable organizations use smart HR metrics to monitor both the career trajectory and mission impact of their talent, and to properly assess whether talent strategies should be revisited to combat turnover and improve performance. A healthy workplace culture free from dysfunction also goes a long way to support engagement and retention, and thereby supports talent sustainability as well.

If you have questions about improving your talent practices in order to ensure a sustainable future for your nonprofit, don’t hesitate to contact us. We do our best work with organizations that understand the absolutely critical role their talent plays in the advancement of their missions.

Lisa is the President and CEO of Nonprofit HR. Under her direction, Nonprofit HR has served some of the most prominent organizations in the country, including Amnesty International, Independent Sector and NeighborWorks America. With more than two decades of human resource management experience working with nonprofits and for-profit organizations, Lisa and her firm have proven that better HR can play an integral role in nonprofit success. Nonprofits have benefited from her wealth of knowledge and experience to make their people-driven initiatives successful. She believes if an organization can strengthen its internal HR capacity, it can better serve the community and those in need. Lisa brings these beliefs to every engagement, and inspires nonprofit leaders to strengthen their most important asset: their people. Lisa is a graduate of Howard University in Washington D.C., a member of the Society for Human Resources Management and serves on the board of directors of Mentoring to Manhood, the Prince Georges Cultural Arts Foundation and is an advisory member of the Talent Philanthropy Project.

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